This annotated week in baseball history: Feb. 22-28, 1960by Richard Barbieri
February 27, 2009
On Feb. 23, 1960, demolition began on Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Nearly 50 years later, demolition is nearly finished on Shea Stadium, the home of New York’s most recent National League franchise. Richard looks back at other past stadium sites.
Like many radio stations, the CBS news affiliate in New York City has a traffic helicopter. Unlike many others, however, it also uses its helicopter (“Chopper 880,” after the station call sign) to take and post photographs of the local area.
One of the saddest sets of photos of this winter has shown the gradual demolition of Shea Stadium. It is has been remarkable to watch Shea Stadium go from a location capable of hosting a major league game before more than 56,000 people on Sept. 30 to nothing more than rubble fewer than five months later.
(“Old” Yankee Stadium is still standing and largely untouched. I assume the teams agreed to keep one up in the event a severe winter prevented the new parks from being completed and necessitated using an existing stadium.)
When the demolition is complete, Shea Stadium will become a parking lot, a fate which befalls many former stadiums. Among others, Chicago’s Comiskey Park (pictured in this article), as well as Fulton-County, Three Rivers and Veterans Stadia have become parking lots.
But not all stadiums are doomed to live out a Joni Mitchell song; some have more interesting fates. And while I would love to give all sites the same treatment those Chicago’s past received in that linked piece, sadly Hardball Times’ travel budget doesn’t quite allow for it.
So instead I will use the wonders of Google Earth to show from the sky a handful of stadiums of both the recent and distant past, and what has become of them.
I live in New York City, home of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, so both those parks will someday get their own treatment. Specifically, someday in August, because I profoundly dislike the cold, so I’m not going wandering around in February.
We start at Montreal’s Parc Jarry, the first stadium to host a regular season major league baseball game outside the United States. Confusingly, the name referred both to the park itself and the baseball stadium it held. The Expos spent eight seasons there before moving in Montreal’s own white elephant, the Stade Olympique.
(Also, although Jarry Park is bordered on one side by Jarry Street, they are apparently named after different people. Having learned that, I had to fit it into this article somewhere.)
The Expos were probably all too happy to leave Jarry Park behind. The team and its attendance were often dreadful: they lost 107 in the 1976 season and announced an attendance of just over 2,100 for a late September game that year.
Today, unlike many of the stadiums that once hosted major league games, Jarry Park still stands. It comes in greatly modified form, however. As the satellite view reveals, it has since been converted into the main stadium of a tennis complex, although part of the stadium retains the baseball shape. It also has been variously renamed after Pope John Paul II, a cigarette company and (currently) a chain of pharmacies.
While Jarry Park might not have seen much success on its field, the same cannot be said for Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds. In 1903, HAG saw the first modern World Series game between the Boston Red Sox (more widely known at the time as the Boston Americans) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Attendance was more than 16,000, though home rooters left disappointed as their defense failed Cy Young and led to a 7-3 Steel City win.
In 1912 the Red Sox moved to Fenway Park, less than a mile away, and the site was abandoned. Today it is home to a complex of buildings owned by Northeastern University, as seen here. When I visited Northeastern during my college search, I was charmed to find the university had placed a statue of Cy Young on the former mound site. Young is depicted peering in to get the signs, which he has to do since his catcher apparently is concealed by a gathering of trees.
One of the longest serving major league facilities, Philadelphia’s Shibe Park (also known as Connie Mack Stadium) served as home to a team—either the Athletics or Phillies—from 1909 through the 1970 season. Shibe Park saw seasons from the great (the 1931 A’s) to the miserable (the 1916 A’s). It hosted the 1950 Whiz Kid Phillies, drawing a million more fans than it had a decade before for the 103-loss Phils.
By 1970, the park had been allowed to fall into disrepair in anticipation of being replaced by Veterans Stadium and was a near disaster. Though 31,000 plus turned out for the final game, the combined attendance for the two penultimate games was an astonishing 2,241. That’s fewer than 1,125 per game. 1,125! The Phillies probably see that many turn up for batting practice these days.
Obviously, there was very little call to preserve the park, but rather than raze it outright, the city allowed the stadium to rot where it stood. (A similar fate befell Tiger Stadium for many years, which might be the only thing sadder than watching a stadium torn down.) After fires, vandalism and general neglect, Shibe Park finally was torn down in 1976.
The area of Philadelphia that hosted Shibe Park (and the nearby Baker Bowl) fell into economic disrepair in the years surrounding its demolition. Nonetheless, today the site is rebuilt, as the home of the Deliverance Evangelical Church. Built in 1992, the church seats 5,100 people.
It is true that many stadiums spend their post-baseball lives paved over, seeing baseball fans only on their way to and from a game, but not all are relegated to such a fate. Whether continuing life hosting tennis, the business of education or the business of salvation, former baseball park locations in Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia prove the sites need not be flattened and forgotten. While it is too late for Shea, I hope the Yankees, Twins and other franchises soon to be in a new home will resist the paving sirens.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com